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Why I am (not) Disappointed (with Stanford)

posted Dec 16, 2012, 5:14 PM by Jack Bandy   [ updated Jan 25, 2013, 10:20 AM ]

Having never been in a real teenage relationship, this is probably the closest I'll get to what a breakup feels like. I'm bitter, still trying to move on, and looking for a 'replacement.' My 'breakup' also resembled a typical teenager's in that it happened digitally. At about 6:00 pm on December 14th, the most devastating message (in the entire history of the whole entire history of the whole world) appeared on my phone. In a very superficial email from the Stanford Dean of Admission, I learned I would not fulfill my dream of attending Stanford in 2013.

I had analyzed the online threads of the early applicants, chuckling at their grammatical errors and typos. I had bought my Mac & Cheese from Panera, which I had planned for several months to be a celebratory meal. (It didn't taste quite as good as an attempt to cope with the rejection letter.) I didn't sleep on Thursday night. I survived on Cosmic Brownies for the better part of Friday. I waited for what seemed like years on Friday, for that one little piece of data to travel across cyberspace and reach my inbox. Which, I must add, must be as worthy as any Stanford acceptant's email address: 'me' @

And yes, the email was superficial. "We were humbled by your talents and achievements and by the commitment you demonstrated in all of your academic and extracurricular endeavors." And just as much as the 4,806 other applicants who received this exact same email? Thanks. I also read (more accurately, studied) the Dean of Admissions' article explaining why Stanford Rejects survive. He commented "The world is not going to judge anyone negatively because they didn’t get into Stanford or one of our peer institutions."

Certainly true. Check out this unedited picture of Richard Shaw's rad signature he included in the email. Richard was also correct in predicting that I would still be alive today. Kudos, bro, kudos... What a boss.

Richard Shaw Signature

But knowing that "the world won't judge me negatively" doesn't help, and to be honest, although I really appreciate all the support I've received, no words of encouragement have saved my disappointment. You ask why, do you not?

Now I sincerely don't want to brag here (and I suppose by Stanford's standards these accomplishments aren't worthy of bragging about), but just to put things in perspective here are a few accomplishments I had on my Stanford application: a 33 on the ACT, a National Merit Semi-Finalist, a Kentucky Governor's Scholar, number one in my class of almost 300, an unweighted 4.0 GPA, three varsity letters, employment experience, volunteer experience, leadership experience, and eight reported AP scores: half 4s and half 5s.

I essentially based every choice in my high school years on whether or not it would help me get into Stanford. But the more I learn, the more I believe my time would have been better spent saving money to send flowers to my admissions officer.

In what I found to be a much more relatable article than Richard Shaw's, MIT admissions officer Ben Jones shed some light on how the admissions process breaks down for schools like Stanford and MIT. First a primary reader who weeds out the "no-way-jose" applications, a secondary reader and a summary, a third reader and another summary, a committee, tough decisions, another committee, a final decision.

To sum up, it's more about your admissions officer(s) than it is about you. I know I'm biased, shut up. But just imagine if your application was read on the morning your admissions officer forgot a cup of coffee! The system is inherently subjective. Another article from MIT admissions admits about the admissions process for such low admission rate schools: "it doesn't matter whether [the admissions decisions] are 'fair' as much as it matters that they 'work', which is to say that they produce the sort of community that you aspire to be a part of." I'm confident neither MIT nor Stanford struggled to create this community: over half of the 6,000 Stanford applicants had a 4.0 or higher GPA.

The latter quote from MIT was in response to a comment made that, once the "no-way-jose" applications are weeded out, the committee may as well roll dice to see who gets in. It's true. Of course I'm biased, quit bringing that up. But the statistics back me up when I say my rejection (along with many others) didn't mean much to Stanford, because I have no doubt the acceptants will thrive at Stanford just as much as I would have. Nor do I have any doubt Stanford will continue to create an appealing community of learners.

But again, even knowing my acceptance was a crap-shoot doesn't help. I worked my, uhm, rear end off f... Forget it. I worked my ass off for the last two years and poured my life into a few pieces of paper which, I hoped, would convince Stanford that I was worthy. Only for an admissions officer to sum me up on another piece of paper, then decide there were 725 other kids with the same scores and accomplishments who were simply... "better." In what way? In whatever way my admissions officer decided. I'd like to think it was something subjective, and I don't think that theory could be too far off. (I knew I shouldn't have mentioned that I don't eat steak burritos during full moon in February of even-numbered years...)

So yes, I'm disappointed I didn't get in and frustrated with the system which rejected me. But it's not Stanford's fault they have to deny 9/10 applications. To conclude, just a few things you shouldn't say to me...

  • "Stanford's loss! They're idiots for not accepting you!" Nope. Stanford will be fine, trust me. There's a reason I wanted to go there so badly, and I'm not going to pretend it's any worse of a school just because I wasn't accepted.
  • "It's going to work out, don't be upset!" Well, of course it's going to work out. How do I know? Even the Dean of Admissions told me I would live! On a serious note, I really do think I will still end up at a great college and make the most of my education. That doesn't make rejection from my dream school any less disappointing.
  • "Are you upset?" Absolutely devastated. The journey to my dream just ended at a brick wall, the kind of brick wall Randy Pausch talks about in his "Last Lecture", which you should watch since, considering you've read to this point in my article, you obviously have nothing better to do with your life
  • "I'm sorry!" Okay, I guess you can say this, just know that it wasn't your fault.
  • "They just didn't see who you really are!" Well, if so, that's my fault. I knew I was going to have to put an impressive version of myself on paper, and if I failed to do so, I can't put the blame on them.

Thank you.